Sunday, November 22, 2015

 

An alienated black bottom in the bottom of hell

IMAMU AMIRI BARAKA – (LEROI JONES) – THE SYSTEM OF DANTE’S HELL

The reference to Dante and his Hell is only a literary metaphor about the experience the author is telling us about when he was a child and growing young adult ending up in the air force.

You will wonder why the first chapters use a syntax that does not contain verbs, and practically only contains nominal phrases. This syntax freezes the description into some kind of ossified static sequences of images or impressions and you are free to rebuild an active world beyond. This is the vision of a child, a young child, an infant maybe. The child only experiences successive frozen tableaus that may make sense in their succession with some kind of syncretic associational architecture. And that’s the first vision of hell. As he says in the conclusion “Hell in the head.” And again “Hell is actual and people with hell in their heads.” For the child hell is already in his head. The book is written from the head or mind of a black male subject.


But the full verbal syntax of the language will emerge and with it the consciousness of a destructive force outside the said individual male subject. We find out then that time is not a dimension this young growing subject possesses. He crosses from past to future at will and the future then becomes dependent on the past and at the same time the future is sterilized by the past just as the past is haunted by a sterilized future. That explains why for a long time if not for ever the people, the characters do not speak, or hardly. A vision of a frozen past with no dynamic or so little. A dynamic will come but of another sort later on. Thus the total image of this life is just suffered.


The main character explains he is from the black middle class and thus is considered as rich and he cannot be a member of the gangs in the streets. He can only be on the outskirts of these gangs, an observer and a subservient member. What’s more he is reading, he is a reader and he reads poetry, Dylan Thomas, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and a few more. Not only does he read these poets but several times he recites them to his uncultured and illiterate black audience. He thus is considered as crazy, mad, a poet, an intellectual, not a real man. Thus he is once again a subservient entertainer more than anything else.


That subservience is expressed by the trip down into Hell, from one episode of subservience to another. The subservience of homosexual episodes where the subservient subject is just submissive. He accepts what he is provided with without any consent, without any taking. He is just there to receive and receive he does in successive gang bangs. He thus builds some kind of inferno in his head that rejects the fact he is constantly the victim of people outside and his mind is entirely built like a castle where he is able to be what he wants to be, to dream himself as being what he wants to be. From this mental citadel he can then projects his poets onto the people around and he does not feel any pain any more, he does not feel the humiliation. Or does he not, really?


Thus his growing pains are successive episodes of violence, violation, submission, subservience, till he reaches the bottom of that hell. And that happens one day when he is on some short leave from the air force, in his uniform, cap and tie and all;, and he is more or less engulfed more or less by force or under pressure from people around him into going to some bar and meeting with black ladies of the night. He is literally captured by one fat one and practically forced to accept to live with her in that hellish bottom.

And this final and long chapter is his story of his escape. Gosh could we say! That escape more than redemption is heavy, hefty, brutal. He runs and he runs. Then he is pursued by some Jewish bum from under a house who wants to use him, the black man, as some kind of lollipop; then he has to be confronted to a dying black man and escape from the cops that are coming because by then he is AWOL; then he is attacked and brutalized by three black men who leave him for dead on the sidewalk out of the bottom of hell for one miserable dollar. Dante managed to get out of hell through the corporal bottom of Satan himself, and here the main character manages to get out of Hell through some escape route out of the bottom of it that brings him to some salvaging white hospital. But the redemption is in his head. He drops away from material consciousness because of the beating, escapes into his mind where he is reciting poetry to a black dancing audience till he passes out and he is rejected by the black dancing audience that does not do anything to bring him back. And then the next thing he knows is he wakes up surrounded by white people calling on God to save that black chap, in other words abandoning his salvation to God’s will. And that is the supreme vision of hell, white hell. Dying for black people, no matter how, is nothing but a divine fate. And be sure it means it is divine for the Whites.


And that leads the character, or the author, or in fact the person telling the story who is both author and character, to his conclusion about “hell in the head.” What he identifies as the torture of never being seen and yet always being observed, with an allusion to Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” is the obligation to build in your mind a citadel where you can evade this “social dichotomy,” “the dichotomy of what is seen and taught and desired opposed to what is felt.” This dichotomy in fact contains the triple principle of this hellish experience: the first experience is what the child sees, and that seeing will of course last forever, even if you got blind. Hell is in the head. Then after seeing there is teaching, meaning here some teaching from outside and thus some learning for the black subject, learning what is taught which is not necessarily the truth, and it is not any black truth and it becomes another hellish element since this teaching is deculturating the black child or later man in order to acculturating him as a white mind in a black body that has to become invisible in its blackness. And the third principle appears here as what is desired because the black child and later man is made to desire being white, being invisible, being seen no more as black but at the same time not being observed as a black man trying to behave as a white man, which is bad both for the black community and for the white community. And that triple reality leads to the fourth element of the crucifixion in the feelings of the child and later adult.

And that triple principle leading to crucifixion has to end in God, but “God is simply a white man, a white ‘idea’.” And this third stage here, this triple white God is the final alienation and your survival is abandoned in this world to that white God, in other words to nothing at all, and you are abandoned to death on your cross. The only way out  is just as hellish as you can imagine and it is in your head, it is a stronger image in your mind that “can deliver [a black man] from the salvation of [black men’s] enemies.” And that’s the damnation of black men in the triple trinity of white America.


And it all leads to the “destruction of America.” “Dead hard ground. / Violence / against others, / against one’s self, / against God, Nature and Art.” And there is no escape from this since the escape is a mental citadel in the mind that is maybe mentally protective but that makes the white social destructive machine ten times more effective since it kills you from the inside and impose onto you a triple vision of reality with “God, Nature and Art.”

This book is the best ever testimony of what the Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome of Slavery is for the descendants of black slaves. Written and published in 1965. It was a premonition of forty years of Post-Traumatic-Slavery-Syndrome and a post-monition of twenty years after Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man.”


Dr Jacques COULARDEAU



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